SUN Hockey Pool

Team-building exercises

ERIC FRANCIS, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

... five hotshot youngsters, four solid lines, three Hall of Famers, two regulation losses and a partridge in a pear tree ...

Every day is Christmas for Brian Burke these days as he oversees an Anaheim franchise that is positioned well to challenge for a Stanley Cup this year and is also the model franchise for fiscal planning.

Not only are the Anaheim Ducks positioned to challenge for their first Cup, no team is better set up to deal with the league's salary cap down the road while remaining competitive now.

Dominant defensively, experienced in goal and deep up front, the Ducks' salary structure features a delicious blend of cheap young talent, mid-range stars and a pair of pricey blueline studs.

While teams such as Toronto, the New York Rangers and St. Louis have stumbled over the last few years due to poor drafting and even worse free-agent signings, clubs such as Nashville, Carolina, Edmonton and Pittsburgh are realizing the benefits of being patient and spending wisely. Today, Sun columnist Eric Francis divides the NHL into teams that understand the demands of the 'new' NHL and those that do not:

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TEAMS GETTING IT RIGHT

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Eight productive youngsters taking up just $5 million in cap room helps make this the best organization in hockey.

Best value: F Ryan Getzlaf, $739,000.

Most overpaid: F Rob Niedermayer, $2 million.

SAN JOSE SHARKS

Virtually everyone in the lineup is worth what they're being paid, from the stars to the long list of entry-level players.

Best value: F Milan Michalek, $471,200.

Most overpaid: F Mark Bell, $2 million.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

After building patiently, the club has become a Cup contender by adding key free agents.

Best value: G Tomas Vokoun, $2.2 million.

Most overpaid: D Dan Hamhuis, $2 million.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Still a lot of wasted money spent on John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Sergei Gonchar and Jocelyn Thibault but with Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal in entry-level deals, the future is bright.

Best value: F Sidney Crosby $3.7 million.

Most overpaid: F John LeClair, $1.5 million.

BUFFALO SABRES

Despite having 14 guys making a million or more, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who isn't earning his money outside of the little-used backup.

Best value: F Thomas Vanek, $942,400.

Most overpaid: G Martin Biron, $2.1 million.

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STAGNANT TEAMS

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Despite having netminder Roberto Luongo to build from, poor drafting has the Canucks hoping only to squeak into the playoffs.

Best value: Pick a Sedin twin, $3.5 million each.

Most overpaid: F Brendan Morrison, $3.2 million.

DALLAS STARS

Veteran club will soon start losing pricey vets with few top prospects on the horizon.

Best value: F Brenden Morrow, $2.2 million.

Most overpaid: D Darryl Sydor, $2.1 million.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

Little support for Alex Ovechkin and the Caps will soon need a goalie. Scary when your captain is Chris Clark.

Best value: F Alex Ovechkin, $3.8 million.

Most overpaid: F Richard Zednik, $1.9 million.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Although centre Ryan Craig is a good young stud, the veteran club pays their big three forwards all over $6 million, which leaves little room to add quality depth or a goalie.

Best value: F Ryan Craig, $495,000.

Most overpaid: G Marc Denis, $2.8 million.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Unstable front office doesn't help a team that is burdened by Todd Bertuzzi's contract and a handful of prospects whose development has been slow.

Best value: F Olli Jokinen, $5 million.

Most overpaid: F Todd Bertuzzi, $5.2 million.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Fan favourites Darcy Tucker wants a $3-million raise next year and Mats Sundin needs a new deal, prompting tough decisions for a club that has almost $19 million wrapped up in Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle and Hal Gill annually.

Best value: F Darcy Tucker, $1.5 million.

Most overpaid: D Hal Gill, $2 million.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Youngsters providing good depth for a team whose four leaders are all making between $4 million and $6.5 million.

Best value: D Andrej Meszaros, $984,000.

Most overpaid: G Martin Gerber, $3.7 million.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

It was tight but Lou Lamoriello managed to shoehorn all his good young talent into his $44-million cap room.

Best value: F Zach Parise, $703,000.

Most overpaid: D Dan McGillis, $2.2 million.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Unsure how he kept his job after years of humiliation, Glen Sather finally has a nice mix of cheap role players and productive stars such as Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, who is a steal at $4 million.

Best Value: F Michael Nylander, $2.2 million.

Most overpaid: D Darius Kasparaitis, $3.2 million.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Anze Kopitar, Patrick O'Sullivan and Jack Johnson provide hope for a team that has a lot of pricey dead weight on its roster such as Craig Conroy, Alyn McCauley and Brent Sopel.

Best value: F Anze Kopitar, $850,000.

Most overpaid: G Dan Cloutier, $2.55 million.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nik Lidstrom provide solid base but are the two top forwards consistent enough?

Best value: G Dominik Hasek, $750,000.

Most overpaid: F Robert Lang, $3.8 million.

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TEAMS ON THE RIGHT TRACK

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Joe Sakic is teaching a crop of kids such as Wojtek Wolski, Paul Stastny, Marek Svatos, Brett Clark and John-Michael Liles how to win.

Best value: F Marek Svatos, $1.05 million.

Most overpaid: G Jose Theodore, $5.5 million.

EDMONTON OILERS

Long list of good young forwards mixed with leaders such as Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith gives team depth, trade bait and a long prosperous future. Oilers have to decide if they can pay Smyth $5 million next year or not.

Best value: F Ryan Smyth, $3.5 million.

Most overpaid: F Shawn Horcoff $3.6 million.)

CAROLINA HURRICANES

Built to challenge for many years with great depth, character and no player is making more than $4 million.

Best value: G Cam Ward, $684,000.

Most overpaid: G John Grahame, $1.4 million.

ATLANTA THRASHERS

The top end talent can carry the team for years offensively and the star goalie is finally ready to play. A few d-men short of contending.

Best value: G Kari Lehtonen $1.5 million.

Most overpaid: F Bobby Holik. $4.2 million.

CALGARY FLAMES

Flames have two years left before all the big guns -- many of whom are underpaid -- need new deals. The feeling is GM Darryl Sutter's savvy can make up for the lack of high-end youngsters in the system.

Best value: D Dion Phaneuf $785,000.

Most overpaid: F Jeff Friesen, $1.6 million.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Although captain Saku Koivu is the highest-paid Hab at $4.75 million, the club is handcuffed somewhat by big deals to Janne Niinimaa and Sergei Samsonov. Otherwise, good young talent emerging like Chris Higgins bodes well.

Best Value: F Chris Higgins, $673,000.

Most overpaid: F Sergei Samsonov, $3.5 million.

MINNESOTA WILD

Depth and discipline finally allowed club to start acquiring free agents with offensive upside.

Best value: F Brian Rolston $2.4 million.

Most overpaid: D Kim Johnsson, $4.05 million.

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TEAM GETTING IT WRONG ... VERY WRONG

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

What's the point of a $6.75- million goalie on a team going nowhere?

Best value: F Tuomo Ruutu, $1.8 million.

Most overpaid: G Nik Khabibulin, $6.75 million.

COLUMBUS B-JACKETS

Haven't been able to build anything around Rick Nash and only have Gilbert Brule to help add hope.

Best value: F Rick Nash $4.5 million.

Most overpaid: Sergei F Fedorov, $6 million.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

Led by a hodge-podge of pricey veterans, the Blues don't have enough talented youth to be optimistic. Erik Johnson still a few years away.

Best value: F Lee Stempniak, $450,000.

Most overpaid: F Keith Tkachuk, $5.7 million.

N.Y. ISLANDERS

It'll take years to overcome signings that have Alexei Yashin making $7.6 million, Miroslav Satan making $4.25 million and goalie Rick DiPietro inking a 15-year, $67.5-million deal.

Best value: F Jason Blake, $1.55 million.

Most overpaid: Too many to list.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

When you sign dinosaurs like Mike Rathje and Derian Hatcher to deals paying $3.5 million each, you deserve to wallow in the NHL's basement.

Best value: D Joni Pitkanen, $2 million.

Most overpaid: F Kyle Calder, $2.95 million.

BOSTON BRUINS

Mistakes such as trading Joe Thornton or paying Alex Zhamnov $4.1 million sting for years. That said, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes and Phil Kessel represent a solid base on which to build.

Best value: F Patrice Bergeron, $3 million.

Most overpaid: F Alex Zhamnov, $4.1 million.

PHOENIX COYOTES

Young defensive corps will emerge as one of the league's best. Problem is, GM Mike Barnett has penchant for making big mistakes such as Georges Laraque, Derek Morris, Mike Comrie ...

Best value: D Keith Ballard, $900,000.

Most overpaid: D Derek Morris, $3.9 million.


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